11.01.15 Sermon (November 1, 2015) "Second Things"

posted Jul 5, 2016, 3:44 PM by David Hawkins
Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-6A

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;  he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." 
And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 

Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

Sermon: "Second Things"             Rev. David Hawkins

When Wiley was a little bit younger, one of his favorite things was to listen to stories about when he was really young, when he was a baby, when he was a toddler. He loved to hear about how he interacted with his cousins, the stories about when he was sick, or got hurt, or when funny things happened to him. He loved to hear about where he came from, his family history, the origin stories that make him who he is. 

Of course, these days, as we are getting ready for him to graduate from high school, our focus is shifting. We spend more time thinking about where he might be headed, rather than where he’s been. We talk about what he might be doing, where he might be living, where he might be going. The stories we tell these days are much more speculative, not us funny, and are filled equally with trepidation and hope. 

But you know what, the stories of Wiley’s past and the stories of his future, they both affect who he is now. They both affect the way he acts, the way he thinks about himself, the choices he makes. Where he has been and where he wants to be both have an impact on who he is now, and the things that he does and thinks. And like all high school seniors, the more we talk about, the more he’s beginning to realize that in order to live into the world he wants for his future, he will have to begin living that life right now. 

It’s important to know where we come from. 

But it’s also important to know where we’re going.

For the month of October, we’ve been reading through the book of Hebrews, an extended sermon about the person and meaning of Jesus Christ. We’ve explored the meaning of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, the meaning of his ministry as a high priest, and the meaning of his sacrifice for us.  

Today, on the day the Church has set aside to remember the saints of our faith, we step out of Hebrews for just a moment into the book of Revelation. 

Now, normally, a side-trip into Revelation might be an occasion for a little bit of apprehension. I think you know what I mean. Too many folks have read too much of their own fears into this vivid and complicated book. And I have to admit that even after leading a Sunday School class last year on the Book of Revelation, I’m still not entirely sure of everything John of Patmos was trying to say. 

And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, the Book of Revelation hasn’t just caused confusion and anxiety in our own time, it has occupied an ambiguous place in the Christian Scriptural Canon from the very beginning. Even in the 3rd Century after Christ, there was vigorous debate as to whether this letter from a concerned, exiled bishop to his churches whom he deeply loved, full of apocalyptic symbols and images meant to comfort and encourage them in times of persecution, could speak to later generations. 

In the end, it was admitted into the lists of what we call sacred scripture, but only after considerable discussion.

And that discussion continues today. And for some folks, it’s a lucrative discussion. 

But, for all the anxiety and movie ticket sales this book has generated in the wrong hands, I am grateful for it. I’m especially grateful for today’s scripture. It reminds us where we’re all headed. It reminds us all what it’s all about. 

These words in our scripture come from the last couple of chapters of Revelation, as the author is summing up his vision for the return of the Lord. This is his exclamation point on all the things he has told his churches to keep their spirits up during times of persecution. That, after all the war, after all the pain, after all the suffering, God will make everything new, God will create a new heaven, a new earth, that we ourselves will be made new, no more tears, no more hunger, no more thirst, no more death. 

And there are times that we need to hear this. There are times when our present circumstances seem to be out of control, that we are helpless, that our loved ones need us and we can’t do anything, that our finances are a wreck, that our work is substandard, that we just can’t seem to catch a break. 

And while we can’t possibly know what true persecution feels like, at least, not like what the early Christians under Roman rule experienced, we do know what hopelessness feels like. We do know what loneliness feels like. We do know what purposelessness feels like. 

We all know what it’s like to be in that place where you feel like you are all alone, that your life has been lived for nothing, that nobody seems to care one way or another about you.  

And for those who are in that position, these words are trustworthy and true. God is with us. God making things new. Our lives have a reason, and all things are being gathered up into him who created heaven and earth. This world is not the end. There is more to us and our lives than we can possibly imagine. 

This world, and our short time on it, is a first act. It is an important act, and we are called to participate fully in it. But it’s not the end of the play. There’s more to the show than this. 

And this is what Revelation, in all its wild, unearthly, graphic, storytelling way, is trying to get across to us. In the same way that Genesis is an origin story, Revelation is a destination story. Genesis tells us where we came from; Revelation tells us where were going. 

And just like where we came from tells us who we are, so does where we’re going. The world that God is making for us is not just the place we are heading, it is the world that God is making new, right now, in us and through us, and all around us. The kingdom of God is at hand, it is here, and yet, as we know all too well, it is not quite yet here. 

And this is what keeps us going when it gets tough. This reminder that God is at work, that God is already doing what he has promised. 

This table is the tangible reminder of that work. Whenever we eat of this bread, or drink from this cup, we are brought, for an eternal moment, into the presence of Jesus Christ, and we are fed again for the work of God’s Kingdom. 

This reminder is what kept the saints of our faith going. Those who have gone before us have also faced tragedy, loss, and despair. But they lived their lives with this scripture in their hearts, they ate at this table, and they knew that their efforts were a part of God’s work, bringing all creation back to him, all nations, all tribes, all languages, all people, gathered together again, a new Jerusalem, united in praise and glory before the Lord. 

And so do we. This scripture was written to Christians long ago who needed to know that God was with them, and it has been our encouragement ever since. God is with us, and he is at work. There is more to come. 

And there will come a time when all this makes sense, when everything is reconciled, when all the conflicts cease, when every tear is wiped away, when death itself is no more, and the world is made new. Until that time, we have our own part to play. Come to the table, and with the saints of our faith, let us lift our praise to Jesus Christ.

Now to the Holy One
who is at work within us,
accomplishing far more than we could ever ask or imagine,
now and forever. Amen.